Lockdown has had the curious effect of turning life into a series of yin and yang extremes. You’re either an indoor or an outdoor person, an exerciser or a Netflix binge watcher, a healthy eater or a chocoholic, a news addict or a news avoider, a rule-follower or a rule-bender. The list is endless and at any given moment I can veer between the two.
Today I’m happily Yin, accessing my nineteen-fifties housewife. I’ve spring-cleaned, done the shopping and even baked a cake, since flour has magically re-appeared on the shelves. The Nearly-Beloved, on the other hand, is in full Yang mode and, having been given the ok from the latest BBC update, has decided to venture out to that bastion of maleness – the DIY store. He’s not set foot in a shop since his failed, self-check-out fiasco so I fear he’s in for a shock. I try to discourage him but he’s adamant – the weather forecast’s looking good, so it’s time for a manly imposing of order on the house exterior with tools, appliances and heavy-duty equipment that I couldn’t possibly understand.
‘I won’t be long,’ he says and I wave him off wordlessly, not wanting to be the one to shatter this illusion.
In the meantime, my job is to coax Grunting Teen out of his cave of darkness. Left to his own devices, he would happily shut himself away all day with the curtains closed, his only illumination coming from the mobile, permanently glued to his hand. I, on the other hand, am a creature of the light and, at the first glimmer of sunshine, head out to the thanks-to-covid, impeccably manicured lawn. Occasionally, of course, I have a down day when, instead, I can be found enjoying the gardens in Emmerdale, wandering down Coronation Street or getting lost in the East End.
But today, thankfully, I’m on the up. I’ve already been out for an early morning run and I’m determined that Grunting Teen will get some fresh air too. I step gingerly into his shadowy underworld of empty crisp packets, discarded coke cans and half-eaten Mars bars.
‘Would you like some cake?’ I shout in vain.
He’s engrossed. Headphones on. Full concentration. Staring at the screen. A French listening comprehension maybe? Apparently not. A full-on battle-royale on the PS4. He finally notices my presence and scowls at the interruption. I repeat my offer and as he lipreads the word ‘cake’, his demeanour changes.
‘What kind of cake,’ he says removing his headphones.
‘Gluten-free, sugar-free, aubergine, nut and dried fruit,’ I announce proudly.
His lip curls. ‘Can I have a Twix instead? And a tube of Pringles?’
‘Alright,’ I say, ‘but don’t forget, I’ve booked you a tennis slot in the park in thirty minutes. With your friend John. We mothers organised it.’
He raises his eyebrows, ‘I’m playing online with John, now. Why do I need to go to the park to see him? I thought we weren’t allowed.’
‘Well, you are now,’ I tell him, ‘it’ll do you both good. Only you’re not allowed to touch each other’s balls.’
‘Mum!’ he says rolling his eyes and I exit the room like an SAS pro.
Half an hour later with Grunting Teen reluctantly dispatched to the courts, and still no sign of the Nearly-Beloved, I decide to go on a little outing. After all, we’re now allowed to exercise more than once a day. And walking is definitely exercising.
My walk happens to take me past a friend’s house, who just happens to be in her front garden. We spend a pleasant half an hour bemoaning our dodgy lockdown hairdos whilst enjoying her Spotify playlist. But part of me feels guilty.
‘Are we allowed to do this?’ I ask, ‘I mean you’re not a family member and we aren’t actually exercising.’
‘Well, according to government guidelines, if I paid you £10 and you came in my house to do some light dusting, that’s allowed, so I can’t see what’s wrong with this,’ she replies. I’m not convinced my law-abiding husband would agree with me, so I cut the visit short and head home.
I’m just in time to see the Nearly-Beloved pull up. He looks harassed.
‘Where have you been?’ he asks accusingly, ‘you’ve already had your run.’
‘Yes, but we’re staying alert now rather than at home, remember,’ I remind him. Then, quickly changing the subject, I ask him why he’s been so long.
‘The queue was horrendous,’ he says, ‘I nearly turned round. But then I got chatting to a chap in front of me about wood stain. Very informative. That kept me occupied until I got inside, where I picked up some masonry paint, a jet power hose and a multi-tool gadget for my bike. Then I had to have words with an idiot who couldn’t tell the difference between 1m 50cm and 2m. It got a bit heated. But the security staff were on my side. I mean I brought my tape-measure out to demonstrate, so they had to let me go.’
I nod, glad that shopping in couples is still discouraged.
‘So where have you been just now?’ asks my personal law-enforcer.
Hoping there’s no photographic evidence otherwise, I reply, ‘Oh, you know. Just met a friend for an outdoor dancercise class.’